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The Pacific Ring of Fire

This GCSE Geography quiz takes a look at the Pacific Ring of Fire. The GCSE syllabus requires that you know how volcanoes are formed, where in the world they are found and how the hazards they pose can be managed. With only a few exceptions, volcanoes are found in well-defined strips across the Earth. The Pacific Ring of Fire is a term that is used to describe one of these areas. It is a horseshoe shaped band of volcanoes that is found around the edges of the Pacific ocean. It stretches from near the tip of South America, northwards up the west coast, bends round through the Aleutian Islands, Japan, Indonesia, then out into the south Pacific and finally down to New Zealand.

Volcanoes are formed where molten magma forces its way through the Earth's crust to reach the surface. It is not just magma that comes out of a volcano, there is a lot of dust, ash, sometimes volcanic 'bombs' plus a lot of gases, some of which are toxic. The magma is called lava where it reaches the surface. This then solidifies over a long period of time, adding new (igneous) rocks to the crust.

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The magma that forms some volcanoes is viscous (thick and sticky), but in others it can be quite runny. Eruptions from the volcanoes with a runny type of lava are usually less destructive than the ones with viscous lava. This is because volcanoes with viscous lava tend to be much more explosive. These explosions can cause massive destruction. You may have looked at the case study of Mt. St. Helens which erupted in the 1980s. It literally 'blew its top' and the mountain was several hundred metres lower after the eruption than it was before.

As well as the toxic gases, explosions, lateral blasts and flows of red-hot rock, there are other major hazards that come from volcanic eruptions. Some volcanoes are high enough to have snow at their summits all year round. During an eruption, this rapidly melts and mixes with soil and rocks to form deadly mudflows (lahars). Ash and red-hot gases can flow down the side of a volcano as a pyroclastic flow (also called a nuée ardente), scorching the ground and destroying everything living in its path. The only real way of managing these hazards is to learn how to predict when an eruption is going to happen and evacuate everyone from the danger area.

The Ring of Fire is not just about volcanoes. As the Pacific plate is forced back down into the mantle by the plates around it, major earthquakes also occur. These are hard to predict and can create large landslides like the one that buried the entire village of Yungay in Peru. Volcanologists can usually give several days warning that a volcano is about to erupt, however, earthquakes are more difficult. How both hazards are managed around the Pacific depends on whether the country is a MEDC or LEDC. There is likely to be greater loss of life in an LEDC as they are less well prepared, can spend less money on prediction and have poorer communications.

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  1. The Pacific Ring of Fire stretches from where to where?
    It has roughly a horseshoe shape with the southern end being the open part
  2. When is a volcano formed?
    They are most common at the edges (margins) of tectonic plates
  3. Why does the Pacific Ring of Fire exist?
    Volcanoes and earthquakes are created where plates are moving relative to each other
  4. Which of the following is NOT a primary effect of a volcanic eruption?
    Make sure that you know the definition of primary effects and secondary effects
  5. How could a volcano create a tsunami?
    When a large chunk (we are talking hundreds of thousands or even millions of cubic metres of material) of a volcano drops into the sea within a few seconds, it displaces a massive volume of water which becomes the tsunami
  6. Krakatoa is a volcanic island in Indonesia. In 1883, it was much larger until it erupted. Seawater entered the magma chamber and was immediately vapourised, creating a massive explosion that was heard almost 4,000km away and destroying over half of the island. Which of the following is a secondary effect that would have caused massive loss of life and destruction throughout Indonesia?
    Primary effects are the ones that are created directly by the eruption
  7. What other tectonic natural hazard is associated with the Pacific Ring of Fire?
    Volcanoes happen at the surface of the Earth, not underground, and the other two alternatives are not created by plate tectonics
  8. An earthquake occurs when:
    Rocks do not move smoothly past each other so plate boundaries become stuck. The rest of the plate keeps moving, so eventually, the parts of the plate that are stuck together suddenly move, releasing a lot of energy which is felt as an earthquake
  9. Where an oceanic plate is forced back into the mantle where it meets a continental plate, what feature is formed?
    The crust of the Earth is warped downwards. The deepest point of all of the oceans is found in the Marianinas trench which is found in the Pacific Ring of Fire
  10. Which of the following nations would be likely to suffer the greatest loss of life and damage to property if a volcano erupted on their territory? They are all countries on or next to the Pacific Ring of Fire.
    This is an example of a question that requires you to use two separate sets of knowledge and to arrive at an answer by eliminating the others. Firstly, you need to know that MEDCs usually suffer lower loss of life during a natural hazard event. Secondly, you need to spot the LEDC. You probably don't know that the Solomon Islands are an LEDC (they are in fact one of the 50 least economically developed countries in the world) but you should recognise the others as being MEDCs

Author: Kev Woodward

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